EU 'concerned' about Belgium's extension of non-essential travel ban

EU 'concerned' about Belgium's extension of non-essential travel ban
Credit: Belga

The European Commission has expressed "a certain amount of concern" about the extension of Belgium's ban on non-essential travel, of which it was only officially informed about a week after it went into force, it said on Friday

Even though Belgium's Consultative Committee decided to extend its coronavirus measures until 1 April last Friday, the Commission was only informed that this included the travel ban on Thursday, causing them "a certain amount of concern," according to a spokesperson.

The Belgian travel ban entered into force on 27 January, and even though the other EU leaders did not raise objections when Prime Minister Alexander De Croo tested the measure at an EU summit, the ban goes beyond the European recommendations.

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Immediately after Belgium's announcement in January, European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders pointed out that the measure was relatively far-reaching, but not illegal, as it remained "proportionate and non-discriminatory."

However, he also said that the Commission “would like [the ban] not to be extended."

As Belgium now decided to extend the ban after all, Reynders requested "additional clarifications on the scope and limitations" of the measure.

For the travel ban, Belgium invokes the Schengen Borders Code, which states that an EU Member State can only introduce border controls when there is a "serious threat to public order or internal security."

However, this measure cannot last longer than two months, which would be until 27 March in Belgium. If the country wants to continue to apply the travel ban until 1 April (or longer), an alternative approach is needed.

On Friday, the Commission again called on Member States to avoid a general travel ban, and not to close European internal borders.

On Tuesday 23 February, the issue will be discussed again at the meeting of European Affairs Ministers, where Belgium's Foreign Affairs Minister Sophie Wilmès will also be present.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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